Mayoral hustings have been rather short of mayoral candidates in the 2021 campaign so far, notably the top two in the polls, but those of all four of the parties best-supported in London showed up for the Jewish Community Hustings last night.
Hosted by the London Jewish Forum, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Jewish Leadership Council and their media partner, the Jewish News, the online event covered issues of particular interest to Jewish Londoners and to Londoners as a whole.
The quartet of panelists – Shaun Bailey (Conservative), Sian Berry (Green), Sadiq Khan (Labour) and Luisa Porritt (Liberal Democrat) – all of whom have now published their full manifestos, were in practiced command of their policy offers. Proceedings were largely civil, though pocked with fleeting eruptions of scorn.
Hustings chair Adrian Cohen revealed at the start that Khan had asked to be allowed to break his Ramadan fast for the day at the appointed time, a moment he later shared on Twitter. Cohen used the opportunity “to wish the Muslim community in London Ramadan Kareem.”
Berry addressed the virtual audience first, saying that as a Londonwide London Assembly Member for the past five years – and, she hopes, the next three too – she has represented “three in every five Jewish people in the UK”. She stressed her wish to achieve “a truly anti-racist city, because so many prejudices are on the rise” and gave a big plug to fellow Green Zack Polanski, who is third on the list of her party’s Assembly hopefuls vying for City Hall. The Greens won two Assembly seats in 2016. They would like more.
Porritt praised Jewish Londoners for their “charitable spirit and togetherness” during the pandemic, laid out her topline themes of jobs, homes and clean air and underlined her wish to replace Bailey as Khan’s principal challenger: “It’s clear Boris Johnson’s Conservatives can’t win here.”
Khan went next, laying out his credentials as a London Muslim who a friend of London Jews. “I’ve stood shoulder to shoulder with Jewish Londoners as a friend, a supporter and an ally,” he said, mentioning lighting the menorah candle at Trafalgar Square Hanukkah celebrations and recalling that his first public engagement after being sworn in as Mayor at Southwark Cathedral in 2016 was a Yom HaShoah commemoration.
In his opening remarks Bailey said he’d learned much from visits to Israel and to Auschwitz, and expressed concern for Jewish students “having a very hard time to find a safe space on university campuses”. He also covered Transport for London’s financial struggles and spoke of “massive rises in crime across London.”
Antisemitism was the subject of the first question, specifically how to combat it. Bailey, making mention of the Community Support Trust, said he thought more could be done to police online hate and through community engagement and education. Khan assured the audience that Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick is determined to stamp out hate crime – a lead priority of Khan’s statutory police and crime plan – and that as a member of both an ethnic and a religious minority “I understand what it’s like to be picked on, to be hated”.
Porritt said her awareness of antisemitism has grown since discovering what Jewish News has described as “a varied and vibrant Jewish family history stretching from Turkey to Kenya via Egypt, Bermuda, and Camden.” Berry warned that more than half of reported antisemitic incidents have been in London recently, and that stories told at City Hall’s Holocaust Memorial Day events have brought home to her that “warning signs were there” long before genocides began. “That’s the thing we have to learn”.
There was harmony on the panel about the virtues of strengthening ties with cities in Israel. Would they commit to a trade mission if elected. Bailey said yes, in his first year; Berry said that departure from the EU customs union in particular heightened the value of building “cultural and trade links” with the rest of world; Porritt thought this especially so, thanks to the government’s “shoddy Brexit deal”; Khan said he would be proud to lead a delegation to that part of the world and described long-serving Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai as a “wise adviser” on overcoming vaccine hesitancy.
Discord, though, was certain to erupt. A question from Jewish Care Homes about how local authorities can best support them prompted Khan to berate the government for the patchy early supply of PPE to boroughs and called for more government resources for social care. Bailey levered in a dig about the forthcoming enlargement of the Ultra Low Emission Zone, saying it would penalise low paid people, as care home workers are.
They two men also came to blows over Khan’s record on housing, with Bailey saying the Mayor has de-prioritised family-sized homes – a recurring Tory critique – and Khan cranking out a list of “record-breaking” affordable housing supply figures. Porritt, like Bailey, wants to set up a City Hall-led housing developer, claiming this would produce better results (at present, affordable housing grant bestowed by government is allocated to housing associations and councils). Berry, underlined her commitment to campaigning for controls on private sector rents in London – something Khan also favours – along with other community-led housing ideas.
Bailey also accused Khan of failures on crime and transport. Khan said Bailey is “not a serious candidate”. These moments were throwbacks to Mayor’s Question Time, with Bailey earnestly attacking and Khan tartly dismissing. Berry, as at City Hall, presented herself as constructively pushing Khan to go greener. Porritt, no doubt mindful that London Lib Dems’ strongest territory tends to be in the blue-yellow swing boroughs of the outer south-west, continued to tout herself as the best bet for toppling Khan. Polling day is 6 May.
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